SINGAPORE - The Court of Appeal on Thursday (Aug 8) upheld the acquittal of a 59-year-old man who was accused of raping his lover's teenage daughter, saying that "troubling" aspects of his accuser's account had raised reasonable doubt as to whether he had committed the offences.
In April 2017, the man was cleared by the High Court of all sexual offences against his lover's daughter. She claimed that he had driven her to a forested area in Punggol in a prime mover and raped her on two occasions and molested her once. She also accused him of sexually assaulting her in the family's flat on two occasions.
The alleged offences were said to have taken place between 2009 and 2011, when she was between 15 and 16 years old, but came to light only towards the end of 2012.
In clearing the man of the charges, the High Court judge had said the complainant's evidence was not unusually convincing because, among other things, there had been a delay in her disclosure of the offences.
The judge also found that her account that the man frequently drove the prime mover was inconsistent with the testimony of his employer, who said he never saw the man drive the vehicle. She said she was assaulted on the rear bench behind the front driver and passenger's seats, but the man and his employer said dirty tools were placed there.
The prosecution appealed against the acquittal.
On Thursday, the three-judge Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal and agreed that the girl's evidence was not unusually convincing, albeit on different grounds.
In a judgment delivered by Judge of Appeal Judith Prakash, the court accepted that a victim of sexual assault, especially a youthful one assaulted in a familial context, may not report the offence in a timely manner for reasons such as feelings of shame and fear.
In the current case, there were plausible legitimate explanations for her initial non-disclosure, said the court, which also comprised Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and Judge of Appeal Andrew Phang.
There were, however, other aspects of her account that the court found troubling.
It noted that her first disclosure of the alleged offences, to her boyfriend sometime between 2010 and early 2011, was "forced" out of her by him.
She next told her mother about the abuse in mid-2011, also the result of "pestering" by her boyfriend, who admitted that he had pressured her into it.
The court also pointed out a major inconsistency regarding the length of time during which the offences were repeated. The alleged victim told the police that all the sexual assaults had ended by May or June 2011. However, she told her brother that the rapes had taken place almost right up to the time she first spoke to him about them in December 2012.
The prosecution relied on seven parking summonses to show that the man drove the prime mover. The court, however, found that while the summonses established that the prime mover had been parked near the flat, they did not prove that the man had driven the vehicle.
The court also noted that the accuser had initially not identified the prime mover as the site of the offences. It was only when the police showed her two photographs of prime movers owned by the man's employer that she identified the one that bore the name of the company.
While the prosecution argued that various discrepancies in the man's testimony demonstrated guilt, the court stressed that the burden lay squarely with the prosecution to prove the accused's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.